How Bob Stoops' return to football could affect coaching market – in college and the NFL

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Pat Forde
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Bob Stoops is back in football as a head coach and general manager in the new XFL. (Getty)
Bob Stoops is back in football as a head coach and general manager in the new XFL. (Getty)

Bob Stoops has a new team. So new, in fact, that he doesn’t even know what the team colors are.

“Maybe they’re holding that information from me because the colors are burnt orange and white,” Stoops said with a laugh in a phone interview with Yahoo Sports, shortly after being named the first head coach and general manager in the new XFL. Stoops will lead the Dallas franchise in an eight-team league scheduled to start play in 2020.

Seeing the winningest coach in Oklahoma history wearing Texas colors would cause widespread strokes to the north of the Red River. Just seeing him coaching at all will cause some wistfulness in Sooner Nation, even though the program is in great hands with Stoops’ handpicked successor, Lincoln Riley.

Elsewhere, the very thought of Stoops being back in the coaching business undoubtedly will stoke the ardor of many college programs and National Football League franchises. If, after two years of restless retirement, 58-year-old Bob Stoops wanted back in badly enough to take a start-up gig in a fledgling league, you know plenty of people will take a run next year at getting him back into the mainstream. His comeback could significantly alter the job market.

He had plenty of job offers since abruptly and surprisingly stepping down at Oklahoma in June 2017. “It’s fair to say a number of calls,” Stoops said, while declining to specify from whom or how many.

More will be coming in 2019, now that it’s clear he’s willing to coach again. A guy with a national championship ring and a 190-48 record automatically moves to the top of the Most Wanted List when the college coaching carousel starts spinning next November.

He’s got a two-year contract with the XFL, and if his careful stewardship of Oklahoma is an indication then Stoops wouldn’t bail on this experiment before his first team takes the field in February 2020. But no shortage of schools will be trying to pull him back in, with increased hope that it could happen.

Still, this statement from Stoops is correct: “I say this humbly — I didn’t need to do this to get a college job.” There is no need to re-establish credentials. If anything, there might be a curiosity about seeing how much he still wants to do this job.

XFL officials originally inquired about his interest four weeks ago, Stoops said. “I initially dusted it off,” he said. But then new commissioner Oliver Luck called, and that was a game changer.

“We talked about it for a good while,” Stoops said. “He explained the vision of the league. Oliver has been highly successful in a lot of ventures. So has [league founder] Vince McMahon. When you start looking at the details, there was a lot to like.”

Among the things Stoops liked: a winter-spring season, which would still allow him some downtime in the summer; the location in Dallas, within three hours of his home in Norman, where his kids are in school; the chance to build and run a franchise from the ground up; and the absence of some of the nagging daily concerns of college athletics.

“You’re not recruiting year-round,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about guys skipping class.”

Bob Stoops (R) passed the Oklahoma coaching baton to Lincoln Riley <span>on June 7, 2017. (AP)</span>
Bob Stoops (R) passed the Oklahoma coaching baton to Lincoln Riley on June 7, 2017. (AP)

Maybe, this job could thread the lifestyle needle for Stoops. The NFL is basically a slave-to-the-job league, and college has so many additional duties beyond simply coaching. With a small league and a relatively brief schedule, it may be possible to coach in the XFL and still have a life away from the football facility.

The question is whether the actual football can provide any kind of adrenaline boost comparable to chasing a national championship.

It will take a while for that question to be answered. But Stoops could at least admit what many other super-successful coaches who retired early and came back came to realize: Life is a little bit boring without football.

“I wanted my own time, my own space,” Stoops said of his decision to retire. “After 18 years, I felt like that was understandable. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. I had a little too much time on my hands.”

Urban Meyer discovered that once, and it seems entirely likely he will discover it again at some point in time. Steve Spurrier wasn’t good at retirement (and still isn’t, having taken a gig in the Alliance of American Football). Barry Switzer came back. Dick Vermeil stayed away for 15 years before returning. Jimmy Johnson was lured back by the Dolphins after leaving the Cowboys. The list goes on.

For the XFL, Stoops is a huge hire. It’s a given that the league isn’t going to get the best players, but it just went and got one of the best coaches — and a big-name coach at that, who will sell tickets in Dallas and get people to pay attention to the product.

Coaches who won big in college carry a name recognition and fan following that you don’t get with a young striver assistant coach. And coaches who won big in college and aren’t ancient are an even more valuable commodity.

Thus landing Stoops was big, and the timing of landing Stoops was deft as well. The AAF’s inaugural season starts Saturday, and in the spin-off league publicity wars, this was a savvy way for the XFL to grab the spotlight just when it was starting to find its new rival league.

So it was a big day for the XFL, and a big day for Bob Stoops — he’s got something to do now. We’ll just have to see how long he wants to do this particular thing.

“Everyone wants you to define the next six years of your life,” he said. “You can’t know that. The only one who can tell you what the next six years will hold is too busy to take your phone call.”

This is true. But Bob Stoops can expect his own phone to ring with renewed urgency in the next year or two. He wanted back into coaching and he got back in — and now a whole lot of college and NFL teams will have him on their hiring radar going forward.

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